Book Review – The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict
The Other Einstein has hints of a great story throughout. Mitza could have been a fascinating protagonist and I enjoyed the portrayal of many of her relationships. However for me her marriage to Einstein was a little too contemporary a period for me to be comfortable with as the basis for historical fiction and overall I feel like there was more to her story than we are given in this novel.
Plot in a Nutshell
The Other Einstein is the story of Mileva ”Mitza” Maric. Mitza is a fiercely intelligent young woman who travels from Serbia to Switzerland to become only the fifth ever female student of physics at Zurich Polytechnic. Once there she befriends, and ultimately falls in love with one of her classmates – Albert Einstein. Much of the novel’s focus is therefore their relationship and the challenges she faces trying to balance early twentieth century married life with her dreams of a scientific future.
On paper The Other Einstein is exactly my kind of a novel. A strong female protagonist pushing against convention in the late nineteen hundreds by travelling far away from home to study, then having to prove her worth in a male dominated environment felt like great building blocks. Throw in her navigating and building her first real female friendships sounded like a really good basis for a novel. Add into it the challenges of marrying a genius in your own scholarly field and the issues facing a woman trying to make her own place in that field whilst managing married life and motherhood and it has all the signs of great conflict.
If this had been that novel I think I might have enjoyed it a great deal more than I did. I warmed almost immediately to Mitza. Her backstory was well positioned and the support and encouragement she received from her father was refreshing and heart-warming. The early university years were well written and I really enjoyed watching her thrive. She makes her first female friends, grows rapidly in confidence, and starts to imagine the place she wants in the scientific world. One of her fellow students takes an interest in her. Initially warm and friendly he enables Mitza to open more doors – becoming more comfortable interacting with the rest of their peers and gaining knowledge and further self-assurance. They work together scientifically and appear to be on the path to greatness.
So far so good. Except the other student is Einstein, a man I confess to knowing not a great deal about. Nevertheless I was really uncomfortable with the way his character develops. From warm and caring he quickly becomes selfish, aloof and intransigent. His treatment of his Mitza, both in terms of emotional and physical support is appalling. She quickly shrinks, becoming a shadow of the girl we first met. This may well be an accurate portrayal of their relationship but being in the such recent past I was not comfortable reading about it fictionalised in this way.
I think Benedict has set out with great intentions. History is still too often told with a heavily male slant and understanding the impact of women like Mitza is important as well as endlessly fascinating. However I think I would have preferred an entirely fictional tale or perhaps Mitza’s pre Einstein story.
Buy The Other Einstein